By Derrick Z. Jackson
The Trump administration is trying mightily to gut the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that mandates rigorous, science-based environmental impact reviews for major infrastructure and construction projects prior to federal permitting. NEPA also reserves significant time for the public to weigh in on the impact of projects to their communities.
The loss of public input in the administration's proposed changes to NEPA has environmental justice leaders up in arms. For them, the silencing amounts to regulatory racism.
Hope in the Courts<p>There is a glimmer of hope that the U.S. courts will determine that President Trump and his industrial partners are reaching <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1062092145" target="_blank">too far</a> in the rewrite of NEPA, as it relates to environmental racism. Take the Atlantic Bridge Pipeline, which is in the public eye for its upcoming Supreme Court case on whether it can transect the hallowed federal Appalachian Trail.</p><p>The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia <a href="https://www.courthousenews.com/fourth-circuit-delivers-another-blow-to-atlantic-coast-pipeline/" target="_blank">recently vacated</a> a Virginia state permit for a compressor station along the pipeline because developer Dominion Energy did not adequately assess its environmental impact on the historic African American host town of Union Hill. The town <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/federal-court-revokes-gas-project-permit-in-win-for-historic-african-american-community/2020/01/07/76bb3538-3170-11ea-a053-dc6d944ba776_story.html" target="_blank">was founded</a> by free African Americans and formerly enslaved people. The federal courts have also sent other fossil fuel projects and Trump administration oil and gas leases back to the drawing board for their inadequate consideration of environmental and climate impacts.</p><p>"Five years ago, Dominion told us that there was going to be a compressor station in Union Hill and there was nothing we could do about it," Chad Oba, president of a Union Hill coalition protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline compressor, <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/477199-atlantic-coast-pipeline-loses-permit-battle-with-historically-black" target="_blank">said in The Hill.</a> "That's not fair, and it's not American. This is a win for a group of citizens who were committed to protecting their community and never ever gave up."</p><p>Such victories give hope that this is one rollback the Trump administration may not ultimately get away with. The assault on NEPA is so sweeping and blatant in its turning control of the environment over to industry, it is sure to receive a massive court challenge from environmental groups and environmental justice advocates. If communities like Union Hill refused to give up, there is no reason for anyone opposed to the rewriting of NEPA to throw in the towel, either. There is still time before the March 10 deadline for <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/10/2019-28106/update-to-the-regulations-implementing-the-procedural-provisions-of-the-national-environmental" target="_blank">public comment.</a></p><p>Recently, Union of Concerned Scientists colleague Adrienne Hollis interviewed Mildred McClain, an <a href="https://www.savannahnow.com/news/20200218/savannah-heads-toward-clean-energy-goal" target="_blank">environmental justice leader</a> in Savannah, Georgia, about the importance of NEPA. McClain <a href="https://blog.ucsusa.org/adrienne-hollis/conversation-with-the-nepa-ninja" target="_blank">recalled</a> how the act gave her community a voice against the dumping of nuclear waste and unchecked widening of the Savannah River for container ships.</p><p>"If it had not been for NEPA," McClain said, "the community would not have been a part of the process."</p><p>It's important to recognize that taking communities of color out of the process is a major goal in the administration's efforts to gut NEPA. When President Trump announced the rewrite, he was — by no small coincidence — flanked by a <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2020/01/10/fossil-fuel-interests-applaud-trump-weakening-nepa-environmental-policy" target="_blank">nearly all-white</a> phalanx of supporters as he <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-proposed-national-environmental-policy-act-regulations/" target="_blank">claimed</a> with a straight face, "We're maintaining America's world-class standards of environmental protection. We have some of the cleanest air and cleanest water on Earth. And for our country, the air is, right now, cleaner than it's been in 40 years."</p><p>For the past two generations, NEPA has offered a powerful tool for the protection of the nation's environment. If the Trump administration succeeds in ripping it apart and turning environmental reviews over to industry, we will risk the dirtiest air and water of any developed nation on Earth, cementing this nation as a hotbed of environmental racism.</p><p>The deadline for public comments on the proposed changes to NEPA closes this Tuesday. <a href="https://secure.ucsusa.org/onlineactions/5J0luZa4YkiUmcMR656c9g2?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=tw&ms=twitter" target="_blank">Submit your comment today</a>.</p>
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By Sam Schipani
Since the early days of his campaign for president, Donald Trump has been promising to make major investments in infrastructure. While the president has not been able to push his $1.5 trillion infrastructure package through Congress, during the past few months lawmakers have moved forward with small pieces of legislation aimed at improving infrastructure, including a water infrastructure bill that recently passed the Senate with bipartisan support. Legislation to improve infrastructure often enjoys support from both sides of the aisle, but environmental groups have been keeping a close eye on the Republican House to see whether these bills will sneak in any the president's proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA.